Military News

Monday, October 26, 2015

Face of Defense: Maryland Guardsman Builds Strength After Adversity

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Thaddeus Harrington Maryland National Guard

BALTIMORE, October 26, 2015 — Army Staff Sgt. Verlillian Githara, a food service specialist with the Maryland Army National Guard’s 104th Area Support Medical Company, overcame a difficult childhood to become a successful soldier and a 10-year veteran of the Baltimore City Police.

Githara may be doing well now, but life hasn't always been easy. Her life could have turned out differently had she taken a different path, and few people know her turbulent life story.

"Things happen, and then you move on," she said. "If you don't move on, you end up like the people I see living on the street. And I refuse to be that way."

Born in Texas, Githara wasn't raised in a stable household with great role models. A relative molested her when she was 9, she said. Her mother was unable to care for her, so she was sent to live with her godparents, also in Texas.

It was then that she officially became a foster child. She stayed there until moving to Maryland to spend the summer with a cousin. The stay lasted four years, and during that time, she said, she was molested again.

"How does that even happen?" Githara asked.

Always a Helping Hand

No matter what happened or where she was, it seemed like there was always someone there to help, she said. If there was something she needed, like a place to stay, it was provided.

"Even in the foster home, [with] molestation and drug issues, I never felt like I was without," Githara said, adding that her faith kept her going.

"It's inconceivable how so many people came into my life to pick me up," she said. "I never fell. There are so many random people out there, angels, who don't know how awesome they were."

Help came from the least expected places. Even people who were abusing their own kids were the ones who came to her rescue and provided safety, she said.

As her foster mom was preparing to adopt her, Githara's mother wanted her daughter back. Somehow, she said, she managed to get out of the foster care system and move back with her mother.

Becoming a Soldier-Scholar

Githara's original plan was to join the active-duty Army right out of high school, but her mother, Jean, wanted her to focus on her education. Githara weighed her options and decided to do both -- she enlisted in the Maryland Army National Guard and began attending Coppin State University. That was 14 years and two deployments ago.

In her Guard family, there are few people in her trusted circle whom she considers very close confidants, Githara said.

"Although she's a very quiet and concealed person, she's very caring," said Army Capt. Elise Dent, 104th ASMC executive officer. "We have a very close, personal officer-noncommissioned officer relationship. I know the conversations we have will stay confidential."

According to Dent, Githara is the type of person who will help someone out, but you'd have to be the first to approach her.

With her team, she has a straightforward, hands-on leadership style, Githara said. She said she pushes them to do their best and be able to shine.

"This is my kitchen, and we need to get the job done," she said. "I'm doing this with you, and we'll get through it together."

Githara tells her soldiers to be open. "In order for you learn and grow, you have to be receiving of me giving you instruction," she said, "and I'm here to learn from you as well."

She admits to being "somewhat closed-off personally," but it's something she said she's working on, noting that it's a self-preservation mechanism.

Presentation is Important

"Let's pretty it up. Garnish it and put it in a different container," Githara said about how she prepares food for the troops. "I want it to look good, as best as it can, and I want it to taste good."

She said it's essential for her to provide some type of happiness to soldiers when they're out in the field and away from home.

"She pays attention to detail, and she makes sure we have enough food," said Army Pfc. Kristina Benedict, a health care specialist and combat medic with the 104th ASMC. "If something doesn't taste right or look right, she's not serving it."

To Protect and Serve

In addition to having a strong sense of right and wrong, her decision to be a police officer was influenced by her godfather, who appropriately went by the name “Judge.”

"He was sheriff of the town, and I wanted to be like him," she said.

At age 21, she began her career with the Baltimore City Police Department. It was a short journey to becoming a police officer, she said -- applying on Monday, testing done by Friday and hired that Saturday. She started out as a patrol officer, spending two years on the streets of Baltimore.

"I was 'Officer Friendly,'" she said. "I would visit with the elderly and try to solve their problems." Things changed when the drug unit took her. "It was fun, and I loved the adrenaline rush," she said.

It was there where Officer Verlillian Allgood -- her name at the time -- met her husband, Officer George Githara. They were assigned together as partners for two years before they started dating. She became pregnant and then transitioned to the drug deployment unit.

They've now been married for three years and are a blended family of five -- each entered the relationship with a child, and now they have one together. Her mother Jean, who is in poor health, also resides with them.

Fitness as a Family

In addition to responsibilities as a full-time police officer, Guardsman, caregiver, mother, and student, she is training for a bodybuilding competition. She will compete this month in the figure category for the World Beauty Fitness and Fashion competition. She is working hard to earn her personal training degree at Bryan University and to attain a pro card, which will opens the door to becoming a sponsored competitor.

"I want to bring my best to the stage," she said.

Githara started training in 2013 during a deployment to Afghanistan. Her schedule is demanding, yet she manages to train with Team Elite, based out of Alabama.

"What's really big to me is I like the way she involves her family in everything she does," said Greg Hasberry, Githara's trainer and owner of Alabama Elite Fitness and Figure. "She has a supportive husband and well-rounded kids. It's pretty neat that they get a chance to watch their mom attain a personal goal."

Her husband drives the whole family to Alabama for her to train with Hasberry and takes care of the kids while she's training. She will have traveled there for a total of five extremely rigorous three-day training sessions leading up to the competition.

"My family is very supportive," Githara said. "They are all on board."

The family goes to the gym together, and she and her children do homework together. Githara realizes didn't have an ideal childhood and could have been a victim of adversity. Instead, she said, she chose to live life on her terms as an example of someone living a resilient life.

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